VATICAN CITY (CNS) — For its debut at the “Biennale di Venezia” International Architecture Exhibition, the Vatican commissioned 10 renowned architects from around the world to turn a small wooded plot on an island in the Venetian lagoon into a spiritual-artistic pilgrimage of chapels.

Asplund Pavilion rendering by MAP Studio
Asplund Pavilion rendering by MAP Studio

The initiative is yet another major effort in the long journey of repairing an unnecessary, “lacerating divorce” between art and faith, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, told reporters March 20.

Over the last century, “art had left the temple; the artist had placed the Bible on a dusty shelf,” he said, while the church tended to blindly copy past styles, or worse, “adapted to the ugliness that pervades the new urban suburbs,” building places of worship devoid of spirituality and beauty.

Artistic expression and religious inspiration are more like “sisters,” he said, and the two, which had become strangers, need to come together again in mutual respect and dialogue.

One of the ways of doing that had been participating in the Venice Biennale for art in 2013 and 2015, and the international showcase for architecture became the next goal “we insistently set for ourselves,” the cardinal said. The Holy See is one of seven nations participating for the very first time; the others include Saudi Arabia, Mongolia and Pakistan.

The theme of this year’s exhibition, which runs May 26-Nov. 25, is utilizing nature’s gifts of light, materials and “free space” on a fragile planet.